Over and out: New grand slam champion guaranteed as Novak Djokovic is DEFAULTED out of the US Open
Men’s tennis is now guaranteed to see a new grand slam champion crowned at the US Open this coming Sunday after Novak Djokovic was defaulted out of the tournament for hitting a line judge in the throat. Alex Grant reports.
It has been a US Open like no other. Social distancing, face masks, no supporters and regular COVID-19 tests but for Novak Djokovic and his fans, it is an event that will live long in the memory for a whole different set of reasons.
Djokovic, the world number one and overwhelming favourite in the absence of long-time rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, went into the match boasting a perfect 26-0 win/loss record for the year and a 3-0 career record against opponent Pablo Carreno-Busta.
But the top seeded Serb didn’t have things all his own way throughout the opening 30 minutes of the match, having earlier sent a ball whizzing off in anger at advertising hoardings having seen three set points go a-begging, as some terrific tennis from Carreno-Busta saw the Spaniard recover from 0-40 down to hold serve for 5-5.
Buoyed by this revival, the world number 27 then played a near perfect game on Djokovic’s serve to break for 6-5, leaving him serving for the opening set and it was then that the world number one critically lost his temper once more. He fired a ball off in anger towards the back of the court, striking a line judge who duly collapsed and appeared in some distress as she gasped for air. Clearly apologetic, the 17-time grand slam winner immediately rushed over but the damage had already been done.
After checking on the status of the line judge and helping her to her feet, the umpire soon returned to her chair and quickly called supervisors, including tournament referee Soeren Friemel, to the court. A 15-minute conversation then ensued, in which Djokovic desperately tried to plead his case and could be heard asking:
“You’re going to choose a default in this situation? My career, grand slam, centre stage?”
But by the letter of grand slam tennis law, which states that no player can “physically abuse any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site,” the decision was as obvious as it was correct.
The US Open quickly released the following statement after the match, explaining:
“In accordance with the grand slam rulebook, following his actions of intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences, the US Open tournament referee defaulted Novak Djokovic from the 2020 US Open.”
The statement then continued:
“Because he was defaulted, Djokovic will lose all ranking points earned at the US Open and will be fined the prize money won at the tournament in addition to any or all fines levied with respect to the offending incident.”
Upon being defaulted, Djokovic shook hands with opponent Pablo Carreno-Busta before quickly gathering his stuff and leaving the court, leaving the site soon after without doing any of his obligatory post-match press conferences.
Later in the evening, Djokovic released a statement of his own via his social media accounts, stating that the whole situation had left him feeling sad and empty but was thankful that the line judge was ok. He ended his statement by apologising to the tournament as a whole stating:
“I apologise to the US Open tournament and everyone associated for my behaviour.”
For Djokovic, the result is a major disappointment as his superior form combined with the absence of both Nadal and Federer saw him as the overwhelming favourite to claim an 18th grand slam, which would have moved him just one behind Nadal’s 19 and Federer’s record haul of 20.
The Serb will now look to reset in time for the French Open due to begin in a little under two weeks time.
For those players left, it throws the US Open wide open and ensures that men’s tennis will have a new grand slam champion for the first time since Marin Cilic’s surprise victory at the 2014 US Open, and a first major winner born outside the 1980s.
Favourites for the tournament will now include world number three Dominic Thiem, last year’s US Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev and German Sascha Zverev.
For Pablo Carreno-Busta (a semi-finalist in New York three years ago), he moves on to the quarter-finals courtesy of Djokovic’s default, where he will face 21-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov, who interestingly once faced a similar disqualification to Djokovic when playing against Great Britain in the Davis Cup.
The then 17-year-old struck a ball off in anger and frustration, striking the umpire in the eye, leading to an inevitable default. The youngster appears to have learned from the incident however, in contrast to Djokovic, who has come close to defaults due to angry outbursts on a number of previous occasions.
Most notably at the French Open in 2016 when in smashing his racket, the racket bounced off the ground and would have struck a line judge if not for the official quickly moving out of the way. The Serb interestingly went on to win the event that year, beating Andy Murray in the final, for what is thus far his only Roland Garros triumph.
As a result, many may see this incident as history finally catching up on the Serb. Whether the 33-year-old will now follow his much younger counterpart Shapovalov’s lead in learning from such a mistake, however, remains to be seen.